Tom Boonen is the first rider to ever win the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix double twice. He is the only rider to have ever won Ghent-Wevelgem, Flanders and Roubaix in the same year and he is the only rider to have won Flanders and Roubaix a combined total of seven times.
He won the latest edition of the Hell of the North by attacking with more than 50km to go and soloing the entire way to the finish. Nobody could get close to him. It was a stunning display of strength and confidence despite of (and quite possibly because of) the fact that without the presence of Fabian Cancellara, he was the outstanding favourite.
But some people are not impressed.
Another record which Boonen set last Sunday is that he has now won four editions of Paris-Roubaix. This is a record he now shares with Roger de Vlaeminck. But the one they call the Gypsy has been less than kind in his reaction to Boonen raining on his cobbled parade.
I hope Cancellara participates next year – then we see another race….Tom can not help it that this time he had no opposition. They were not second but third-rate riders. The competition were no obstacles to him in the race…they could probably not be any better.
De Vlaeminck continued by actually complimenting Boonen, saying that he is the best Spring rider of the last twenty years. In fact, by taking 17 wins combined in the E3 Prijs, Scheldeprijs, Ghent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Boonen is the most successful cobbled classics rider of all time. But De Vlaeminck’s message seems to be that Boonen’s latest win was second rate and not as deserved as his own wins back in the 1970s.
In the March edition of Pro Cycling magazine, Herbie Sykes recounted an interesting story about one of De Vlaeminck’s own wins, the 1977 Tour of Flanders. It was the only monument classic which De Vlaeminck had yet to win and the story involves one of the greatest classics riders who never won any of the monuments, Freddy Maertens.
The Koppenberg was in the race for only the second year. The climb was considered so steep that riders wanted to change bikes at the foot so that they could tackle it with a more appropriate gear ratio. But the race organisers, eager to avoid a bottleneck of bike-changing riders, decided that no rider would be allowed to change bikes throughout the race unless there was a genuine mechanical problem.
But Maertens decided to try and change bikes on the sneaky anyway. As the race unfolded, Maertens and De Vlaeminck ended up at the front of the race in a trio along with an ageing Eddy Merckx.
But a UCI commissaire, Jos Fabri, had seen the illegal bike change and pulled up beside Maertens during the race and told him that he was going to be disqualified. Maertens claimed innocence and said he would appeal. Bizarrely, Fabri allowed the current world champion to continue riding but said that once he got to the finish he would be disqualified and removed from the final results.
Merckx had previously been dropped which left Maertens on his own up front with De Vlaeminck. Knowing that he couldn’t win himself, Freddy did the only thing that seemed reasonable given his current predicament, he asked De Vlaeminck for 300,000 Belgian francs in return for a tow to the finish.
The Gypsy, desperate for a win in the race that had eluded him for so may years, agreed.
So Maertens pulled De Vlaeminck to the finish for two hours. The latter didn’t do one turn on the front for those final 80km and then he nipped past Maertens in the final straight.
As Sykes put it in the Pro Cycling piece, ‘Roger had committed the cardinal sin of Flemish cycling, he’d pilfered the Ronde van Vlaanderen’.
De Vlaeminck crossed the line to a chorus of boos and jeers from the local fans. They knew he had not done a tap of work.
After the race, Cycling Weekly reported the following about the events that unfolded:
“I told Freddy that I couldn’t work with him, but I did not promise to let him take the sprint.”
The reason for this comparative lack of chivalry lies in last year’s Paris-Roubaix when Roger lost the sprint because he had worked too hard before it. He wasn’t going to have that happen again.
“Even so, I would much rather have won that fourth Paris-Roubaix last year than won my first Tour of Flanders like this” he confessed. “You know, if Maertens attacked me just once, I would have been able to do nothing about it”.
As it happened, De Vlaeminck would win that fourth Paris-Roubaix the following week and ridiculously, Maertens tested positive for Stimul after the race (which meant he was disqualified twice!)
So before De Vlaeminck poo-poos Boonen’s latest win as undeserved, perhaps he should take a look at himself and decide whether he deserved to win the 1977 Tour of Flanders.